Six seconds was all it took for Shaka Shomari to get down the track for the 60-meter dash, and those six seconds was enough to qualify for one of the biggest collegiate track and field meets.
But now, almost four years later, he may not reach that time again.
“I haven’t run good times since I was a freshman and it’s because of the switch -- the three switches,” said Shomari, a sprinter. “It affects you a lot as an athlete, definitely.”
Shomari is just one of hundreds of Saint Peter’s University’s athletes who experienced multiple changes in athletics during their collegiate career. Since 2016, there’s been five head coach changes in five different departments, which some athletes say can take a toll on them.
Shomari, a senior, said he had a good freshman year with his then-Head Coach Michael Massone and explained how his team was actually a team.
Massone, who head coached SPU for nine years, coached several players who qualified for the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America and Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I Track & Field Championships.
But that all changed in one semester.
Massone was fired in the spring, according to Shomari, and Phyllis Anderson, former A. Philip Randolph High School track and field coach, then took over the program for the outdoor 2015-16 season.
This switch in coaches caught then-freshmen Zy’mir Gettis and Patrick Hamilton by surprise.
“It was like, kind of annoying because I was told so many things from Massone,” said junior jumper Gettis. “And I get here and I see her, it’s like, ‘Who is this?’”
Athletes who believe that they are close to, committed to and have a promising career with their coach are more likely to have athlete satisfaction, according to a 2017 study by the University of Montana. But that was the exact opposite of what the three track runners experienced.
“Bad workouts. No organization. She didn’t have control of the team,” Shomari said. “She just had like a negative vibe like every day. It was weird.”
Hamilton, a junior middle-distance runner, agreed that the practices were bad, saying that everyone did the same type of workout, which isn’t how it’s supposed to be, according to the runners.
“I had my worst track season with her as a coach to be honest,” Hamilton said. “The workouts weren’t good. Everybody did the same thing. We ran everything.”
In the beginning of that year, Gettis said that Anderson had him do unnecessary workouts at practice which frustrated him.
Gettis couldn’t participate his freshman year because Anderson “played” with his eligibility. Anderson gave him a deadline for his transcript, but by the time the NCAA got back to them, it was too late, he said. He made his debut during sophomore year.
Eventually, the bad workouts, lack of communication, chemistry and practice affected the team. The Peacocks placed last in the outdoor men’s and women’s track and field 2016-17 MAAC Championships.
“It’s taped on our door,” said Shomari, who lives with Gettis and Hamilton. “ 0-and-2.”
The men’s team scored two points while the women ended with zero. Then-juniors Jermaine Lascelle placed first in the 400m dash as Gadimi Dorielan landed fourth in the 200m dash.
Anderson did not return our emails.
Then, at the 2017-18 Outdoor MAAC Championships, SPU scored more than a dozen points. The men’s placed sixth with 29 points while the women’s placed ninth.
The squad was able to bump up the ranks under another new head coach -- their third in three years.
John Marshall, a former Olympian and veteran college head coach, was welcomed into the program on March 12. Anderson resigned from her position on Feb. 23, a few days after the 2017-18 Indoor MAAC Championships.
“We changed as a team,” Gettis said. “Everybody said, ‘Alright, we’re onto something new and we’re ready to prepare for this upcoming season. Let’s do something. Let’s show the athletic department that we’re not lazy, we’re not unintelligent, that we actually, we can do something.’”
Just as track and field struggled, so did golf during the 2015-16 season, when now senior golfer Jose Cardona was a freshman.
Cardona said his rookie year -- under former Head Coach Peter Falloon -- was his best season. He was playing consistent, felt like he was in a great spot and joined a team who had won the MAAC championship a year before. His excitement was his motivation, he said.
Yet, despite his individual confidence, he recalled that his team’s overall performance wasn’t the best that season under Falloon. They placed fourth and fifth out of 11 teams over the three-day MAAC championships.
Then-senior Nick Dilio was able to finish off his collegiate career by earning the 2016 MAAC individual title as well as becoming a three-time NCAA qualifier. Just three months after graduation, Dilio was named SPU’s new golf head coach.
But, unlike track and field, the golf team’s head coach change led them to a championship.
“Nick is more relaxed than my past coach,” said Cardona, Dilio’s former teammate, in an email interview. “There are many coaches that make their players do certain drills every time, but Nick lets everyone choose what drills they want to do. There has been a stronger bond between Nick and the players than with our last coach.”
During Dilio’s first season, he brought the team to a MAAC championship, a NCAA Regional appearance and was named MAAC Coach of the Year.
Since then, the alum has helped guide the squad to high-rankings in every regular-season tournament. This season, they won the Metropolitan Intercollegiate Championship in October.
“I think the players were very excited for some new leadership,” Dilio said in email interview. “Pete and myself are very similar when it comes to our coaching styles. As Pete would say, ‘Don’t fix something that isn’t broken.’”
It seemed at times, according to current and former athletes, there was a surge of trying to fix things that were “broken” -- from the men’s and women’s head track and field coaches to both men’s and women’s basketball.
Both the track and golf players agreed that a constant change in coaches negatively impacts an athletic program because they are then forced to learn a different workout regiment, adjust to a new environment and scramble for team chemistry.
“Team chemistry is very important for our team’s success,” Dilio said. “As I’ve witnessed over my 7 plus years as a player and coach, that teams that got along best off the golf course had the most success on the golf course.”
Hamilton added that success also comes from when everyone -- from athletics, coaches and teammates -- is on the same page, helping the athletic program thrive, to “become something better.”
But the change that sparked it all was one from the very top.
Bryan Felt was named athletic director in Sept. 2017 who immediately began working on rebuilding SPU’s athletics. It was under him that men’s and women’s basketball and track and field tabbed their new coaches.
“We had to create the proper environment for them to be successful,” Felt said. “I think previously -- I can tell you -- it was not a healthy one. Not to say it was awful, but it definitely needed to improve.”
Just a few months later, Felt hired Marshall to run track and field. Two weeks later, he gave Marc Mitchell his first Division I coaching gig as head coach for the women’s basketball team.
Two weeks later, Shaheen Holloway, a former associate head coach at Seton Hall University, was given the reins to lead the men’s basketball team.
“You can hire a coach tomorrow that could be the greatest coach in the world,” Felt said. “But if they come in here and they’re not the right fit, you’ve got a problem.”
Felt recalled the numerous candidates he went through before finding new coaches for track and field and both basketball teams.
“It obviously starts at the top -- it starts with the athletic director,” Gettis said. “You’ve seen vast improvements throughout the entire athletics department from women’s basketball to men’s soccer getting their first playoff game in, like, I don’t know how long. The soccer team actually win a game, women’s volleyball been winning games.”
However, athletes don’t just want to win and excel in their sport, but they want to feel accepted too.
Cardona explained that players want to feel that they’re part of something important, somewhere they belong and where they can proudly represent their college.
“It does not matter how much talent you have,” Cardona said. “Because if you don’t feel that you belong to something important you will lose interest.”
Gettis also said that he wants to feel part of the team, which is something Marshall has accomplished so far.
“He makes me feel as though now I’m part of the team -- part of the D1 program -- instead of being left out like Anderson did,” Gettis said. “Even though we did have multiple changes, this change is here to stay.”
“For a long time.”